Future Imperfect: The Mixed Blessings of Technology in America

Future Imperfect: The Mixed Blessings of Technology in America

by Howard P. Segal
     
 

The commonly held conception of America as a potential utopia to be brought about technological progress is old and familiar, with many European roots. And it is a conception still shared by many Americans (and non-Americans) despite growing doubts about both America's and technology's future. The critical issue, all told, is how to live sanely and humanely in

Overview

The commonly held conception of America as a potential utopia to be brought about technological progress is old and familiar, with many European roots. And it is a conception still shared by many Americans (and non-Americans) despite growing doubts about both America's and technology's future. The critical issue, all told, is how to live sanely and humanely in America's pervasively technological society. That is where serious discussion about America's and technology's future ought to begin. And it is the focus of this book.

University of Massachusetts Press

Editorial Reviews

Booklist

After briefly reviewing the complex development of "the American ideology of technological progress," Segal offers critiques and case studies of historians (Tocqueville and "modernization," Leo Marx's "middle landscape," and students of the Automobile Age and its prospects), of utopian and dystopian technological visions (from Edward Bellamy, Mary E. Bradley Lane, Kurt Vonnegut, and Lewis Mumford), and of the overt and covert attitudes toward technology and culture manifested in technological museums and museum exhibits. In a final section, Segal examines the ironies of the ways contemporary technological optimism, "misusing and abusing as well as ignoring history, promotes high tech's products and its ideology: prophecies, advertising, world's fairs/theme parks, and the technological literacy crusade." A challenging and nuanced examination of the interplay of man and machine in the nation's past, present, and future.

Choice

Comparing the realities with the all too often overly optimistic promises of technological advances can and does leave people confused and disillusioned. However, if one places technological change and technological optimism in its historic context, then both the benefits and the burdens of technology can be more fully understood and appreciated. In a series of essays, Segal (history, Univ. of Maine) provides an insightful interpretation of how technology has helped define and sway American society. Rather than taking either of the contrary and extremist positions that technology will be the ultimate salvation or damnation, these essays attempt to provide a more reasonable view of the uses and limitations of technology. Although uneven at times, the study is thorough and well documented. Drawing on case studies from museum collections, fictional literature, historic studies, and contemporary public policy debates, the author offers useful and insightful examples that may challenge readers to reexamine important issues and beliefs. Moreover, by placing these issues in historic context, Segal provides some substance and relevancy to various controversial and meaningful issues. Recommended for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as general readers.

The Futurist

A collection of illuminating essays on the many ways that technology has affected American Society.... A thoughtful book that should be a 'must read' for anyone interested in how society copes with technology.

Science Books and Films

A history book with a liberal dose of sociology, philosophy, museum critique, and literature review, [this] is an interesting and scholarly work, repeatedly raising the question of what kind of technological society we want and what has gone before us.... Well written and engaging.

Science

Thoughtful, thought-provoking, and definitely worth reading.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this somewhat specialized inquiry into views of technology, Segal ( Technological Utopianism in American Culture ) begins by reexamining the traditional opposition of nature and technology; he explores what Leo Marx called the ``middle landscape''--the fusion of nature and civilization in response to industrialization--positing the suburbs as an example. He also examines the role of the automobile in negotiating that landscape. Then he analyzes the ambivalence towards technology expressed by the ``good old days'' display at the newly reopened Armington and Sims Machine Shop and Foundry (in Dearborn, Mich.), originally founded by Henry Ford. Looking at literature, he explores the technological vision of Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward ; the unusual women-only 1890 utopian novel Mizora by Mary E. Bradley Lane; and the anti-utopianism of Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano . The United States, suggests the author, retains a spirit of technological utopianism (as evidenced by the celebration of ``smart bombs'' and Patriot missiles in the Gulf War). He goes on to discuss the ironies of the current push for technological literacy; for example, the democratic rhetoric of its advocates does not match the idea's inherent elitism. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Jan.)
Booknews
In a series of case studies, Segal reconsiders the American ideology of technological progress and its legacy. He offers examples--drawn from US history, literature, and museums--of the role of technology in American life and the complex relationship between technological advances and social developments. In each instance, he finds technology neither wholly good nor wholly bad, but rather a mixed blessing. Paper edition (unseen), $15.95. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780870238826
Publisher:
University of Massachusetts Press
Publication date:
01/10/1994
Pages:
264
Product dimensions:
6.02(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.84(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Melvin Kranzberg

A well-written book by an author who is very knowledgeable in the field. It deals thoughtfully and provocatively with topics whose importance is increasingly recognized. It will be widely used and cited for many years to come.

W. Warren Wagar

This is a major contribution to our understanding of the place of technology in American history and historiography.

Meet the Author

Howard P. Segal is professor of history and director of the Technology and Society Project at the University of Maine. He is author of Technological Utopianism in American Culture and, with Alan Marcus, of Technology in America: A Brief History. He is coeditor with Yaron Ezrahi and Everett Mendelsohn of Technology, Pessimism, and Post modernism (University of Massachusetts Press, 1995).

University of Massachusetts Press

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